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Nearly fifty years ago, a black-and-white television series called Star Trek aired for the first time on TV sets across America. Today, its iconic mission statement still resonates across the world:
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Today’s companies have adopted this spirit of exploration as a survival tool. With so many new companies on the horizon, and so much competition, you have to ask yourself: How can my company go where no one has gone before? What problem am I solving that no one else has? What is my mission, and why does it matter?
In an effort to find a niche and attract more customers, businesses have melded ethical goals into their business strategy—and it’s worked. We walk an extra few blocks to buy fair trade coffee, we seek out shoes that support kids in the developing world, and we select cleaning and beauty products that are the epitome of eco-friendly. There is even a coveted recognition—the B Corps Certification—for companies whose mission is to benefit society as well as their shareholders.
This “doing good” trend is powered by another powerful trend: the rise of the Internet marketplace. Together, companies with a social mission that are powered by e-commerce are reshaping the way we consume goods and services. I believe we are witnessing the dawn of a new type of business: the mission-driven marketplace.
The Evolution of the Mission-driven Marketplace
There are mission-driven companies, and there are marketplaces; but only a small number of companies have actually combined their mission with a consumer-facing marketplace, resulting in a mission-driven marketplace.
I believe this term, “mission-driven marketplace” will become commonplace as we move toward an economy in which businesses give individuals the opportunity to make money in ways that matter to them, and impact their lives in a positive way.
The history of the mission-driven marketplace can be traced to the early days of the Internet, with Craigslist as the most notable example. Craigslist followed a horizontal model, meaning you could find listings for pretty much anything (and I do mean anything). However, the need for more specialized marketplaces became apparent, with sites like Zillow for real estate and Monster for job seekers emerging. These sites focused on one specific area, which led to better content, and more sophisticated, specific functionality.
More recently we’ve seen the rise of the “sharing economy.” Companies like AirBnB, Thumbtack, Poshmark and Etsy have created online marketplaces that have fundamentally transformed how people view online commerce. These companies have built businesses by creating connections between technology and the physical world. They focus on creating unique transactional experiences, rather than simply selling a service or product. For instance, AirBnB hosts are encouraged to act as tour guides for those staying with them. Etsy has people buying directly from the hands that made the product, while Poshmark has created an easy way for women to find clothes from other women’s closets, reducing consumption of new items. These companies all leverage social features to create a culture of human interaction and trust, and have experienced exponential growth and, in some cases, soaring valuations as a result.
Mission-driven marketplaces are the next step in this evolution. With these businesses, it’s about connecting people, not just the transactions. It’s about experiences—sometimes personally transformational ones—that improve the lives of people on both ends. Clearly, direct selling companies will play a major role in the mission-driven marketplace. Indeed, they always have.
Idealistic? Yes. But so was Gene Roddenberry’s idea for a TV show in the ‘60s that featured a multinational, multiracial cast to crew the U.S.S. Enterprise.
We are still in the early days of the mission-driven marketplace, but the opportunities are endless. Adoption of green energy is on the rise, and I predict there will be some innovative marketplace models to emerge out of that sector. The healthcare industry is also undergoing seismic changes, and marketplaces are already playing a role in bringing health coverage to millions more people. As mobile devices continue to bring billions of people online, including some of the world’s most marginalized populations, there too will be a wealth of possibilities.
The crew of the Enterprise succeeded because they had a clear, honest mission; it is my belief that companies who are creating mission-driven marketplaces will succeed for the same reason.
Preserving Memories for a New Generation
Brian Knapp is Chief Revenue Officer and General Counsel of YesVideo and Head of Legacy Republic, its direct selling marketplace. Learn more at LegacyRepublic.com.